I remember her, in the early morning light, a pillar of sunshine cutting her pale body in two, as it invades through the small slit between curtains billowing in the seaside breeze. Her body was twisted, contorted, in only the way a person can find comfort in such deep sleep. The air was cool on that morning, and briny, as if the ocean itself drifted upon the languid air and filled the space, the two of us floating to the ceiling in the buoyant salinity. I remember her like that, frozen in time, etched in my memory, played over again and again, a skipping record, the soft hiss and scratch the only indication it is unnatural, untrue. I remember her in that moment, right before the flash.
The field where I buried her, where I lay Angeline shallow in the earth, is on the edge of a bog. The ancient celts laid their loved ones to rest in this marshy land. In those ancient times, their bodies were placed upon the surface of the thick mire, swallowed up slowly as the viscous fluid embraced their flesh.
I was exhausted by the sheer effort of digging. The repetition of it all too much. Starvation gnawing at me. Hunger pangs twisting my stomach in knots, prevented the indent in the red, earthen soil, from being dug deeper.
It was dull and grey that morning, like every day this last year. The sky itself was ashen and rained soot. When I tamped down the red dirt-a thick heavy clay, wet and oozing like the planet itself was bleeding from some unseen seeping wound-a blanket of ash already began to coat the berm, Angeline’s body lay beneath. It seemed fitting, that the soil now mixing with her flaming tresses was of the same color, as if the earth itself had taken on the qualities of Angeline. When I placed her limp corpse within, only feet below the surface, I could hear the ocean roar in the distance, a deafening sound in such a quiet, desolate space.
I found myself wander back to the shore, the waves slapping at my feet, the grains of sand slipping away beneath the worn soles of my shoes, eroding the earth beneath me. The wind howled and whistled a sour air, as if the brine itself had spoiled and replaced the atmosphere with a fetid, off stench. Fish strewn across the shore rotted at the high tide line, amidst a bed of seaweed and delicate foam which rustled down the beach like airy tumbleweeds. Silver scales slipped off pink and white flesh, revealing delicate bones beneath.
I looked out upon the lonesome horizon, the anemic sky wan against the roiling black waters of the Atlantic. Behind me, the house loomed, its windows glowering at me, that bog, the world itself. Where once it looked upon beauty, now only desolation and decay. Where we were once a pair, now we were a reflection in a wading pool, a pebble thrown into the center, the resulting waves distorting the image, as each ripple projected a new and different picture farther out from the center. There but not there, the tangible physical self outside the water nothing but a spectre, a soul lost in the reflection. I turned back and faced the ocean, and sitting in the sand, let the waves wash over my feet.
Curtains slipped past sashes on the second floor, billowing out as if waving me into the home, beckoning me so it could reveal a secret I already knew, but wished I did not. The sun fell deeper toward the horizon somewhere behind the grey woven mat of clouds, like wet wool hung high overhead.
The wan that covered the earth grey dimmer. It was nearing time.
Standing, I hesitated, glimpsing the horizon one last time, as if hoping to catch some glimmer of stupid hope, blundering optimism. As if some sign would present itself of salvation. As if, when I turned, it would appear and I would’ve missed my chance.
It did not.
I began to walk the incline of sand toward the steps. Neglect had brought the beach to cover most of them. Grains flitted across the deck boards of the porch, moving in a fine mist. I felt the wood beneath my feet. It sagged in some places, creaked in others, solid and firm in only but a few.
The door. The old wooden screen door. The same door where we peered out on full moon nights, the beach blanketed in a marvelous blue hue, the ocean a roiling pot atramentous, white caps phosphorescent as they crested and peaked, the beach grass individual strands of shimmering silver. On those nights, Angeline would press her nose against the mesh of the screen and watch with such intensity, it was as if she was compelled to wander in pale light of the moon and dance with the devil. Standing behind her, I’d wrap my arm around her waist, pulling her close to me, as if somehow our bodies were two halves of a cleaved rock, put back together in that moment, finding ourselves whole and comforted again.
I can still smell her hair, like bergamot and pepper, not the strange and foreign scent of the red clay that coats my hands and her locks now. I can still taste the salt of her skin as I kiss her neck, feeling her muscles twitch beneath my lips. Now all I taste is grit, as bits of clay, caked upon my fingers, tumble clumsily into my food. I can still feel her, the softness of her, the small moles and birthmarks I’d probe and trace in hypnotic motions, my fingertips exploring, unattached to my mind’s thoughts.
The wooden frame of the screen door was askew. It drooped down, sagging, its hinges pulling from the cedar that has greyed with weather and time, gaping holes in the screen where Angeline once pressed against.
I pulled on the handle.
It swung haphazard, loose and disjointed, in an arc that caused one corner to scrape against the wooden boards. The door behind it was open, a pile of sand collected in the hallway, the dim light fading in the afternoon, the stark contrast of the millions of white grains set against the darkened hallway, made it seem to illuminate and glow. As I step inside, my foot pressing into in the soft sand, the surf rolls behind me, crashing upon the shore, a defiant yawp of its permanence and invincibility.
Inside, the house is quiet. An absence of everything, an overwhelming abundance of nothingness.
I can taste it on the air.
There is static, a hum, a charge that tingles, leaves empty the space. Each step I take is chosen with care. Methodical. Light. Whispers are screams compared to my steps. I’m afraid to scare her away, Angeline. I’m petrified, swelled with nervousness.
The hallway feels forever.
At the foot of the stairs I found it difficult to lift my leg. To ascend to the bedroom. The image flickered in my mind, Angeline bathed in early morning light. Her eyes, staring into mine, two souls connected.
Each step, I pause to listen, to hear her smooth deep respirations, the slow intake of air and the sweet hush as it escapes her lips. I listen for it. Each breath a lullaby for me, a Siren’s song beckoning me closer.
A thin column of light cut the diminishing afternoon.
Grey tone, black shadows, my body is mercury, smoothed and curved, sharp lines vanished with the setting sun. Few steps from the top I freeze. Still. Quiet. Motionless like a sculpture in a museum carved from smooth marble. My eyes, just cresting over the top landing, I can see the outline under the white sheet. The bed an altar in the waning dusk.
I continue, step after careful and deliberate step. At the top, standing in the doorway to our bedroom, I see her contorted in deep sleep, the sheet lightly draped across her body, exposing the pale skin of her torso. In the rising night she is nothing but silhouette, details filled in with mind’s remembrance.
I remove my shoes, careful not to disturb her with a sound. My fingers fumble the buttons of my shirt, the mismatched fasteners each different size and color slides through ancient fabric. When all are unbuttoned, the shirt slips from my thin shoulders and glides to the floor. It lays there in a heap upon the dusty boards, a gauzy veil drifting in emptiness. I slip my pants off and step gingerly out of them. I stand naked.
My body exposed, naked to the world, I run my fingers over my skin. I feel scars raised and jagged, lines like mountain ranges on a topographical maps. The spaces between my ribs are valley and canyons deep and vast, the muscle having wasted and sunk in long ago, consumed by a hungry body. I feel the gaunt self I am. Emaciated and thin, a hideous portrait of myself.
I move toward her, shuffling my feet as I grope through the dim light to find the edge of the bed. I hear the sheets rustle, and then move soft, rhythmic, a loll with each breath. I hear her louder now, a whoosh of air, a soft sigh, an occasional coo. I move with delicate precision and pull the sheet back, exposing Angeline’s body to the chill air.
She shifts, a minuscule movement that only I could ever notice, knowing her body, having studied it so intimately in a way only lovers ever do.
Muscles tense as she stirs ever so slightly.
I slide into bed, lithe like a cat, the sheets rough with age and time, yet softer than my discarded clothes prostrate upon the floor. Her body moves, attracted to my warmth, a “living furnace” as she nicknamed me with such affection. She is like a moth to flame and burrows herself against my body. She is curled as the small spoon, I wrap around her, never to let go.
She is frigid like a steel flagpole on a January morning.
In that moment, my arm around her, I caress her smooth skin. My fingers probe for moles I know so well, yet are not there, scars that have not happened, yet did, age that has accumulated, yet has not. We settle into our routine; she against me, I holding her. It is inevitable that we part in the night, she twisting, pressing away from me, to find her space splayed out across the wasteland of cotton sheets that feels miles away. In that moment, as we fall asleep though, Angeline is pressed against me, searching for warmth.
Her body rots in a shallow grave away from the shore on the edge of a bog.
As the red clay consumes her corpse, the hump of that shallow grave shrinks, and the body pressed against me grows increasingly warmer and animate. With each moment of the night that passes, her body deteriorates in that grave until nothing is left but bone, flesh stripped from the body, even the marrow sucked dry as the ochre earth encases her. In the morning, Angeline will awaken to find a new day, a pillar of light bisecting her contorted lovely body, her eyes opening and squinting through night’s fog and morning’s haze.
In the morning, Angeline’s body will have dissolved in the grave, like all her other bodies buried in that bog. Each set of bones covered in red earth. Each set of bones sized the same. Each skeleton, Angeline.
Maybe, just maybe, this Angeline will be my Angeline. Maybe this time she will remember me, maybe this time she will not have the same bloodlust all the other did. Maybe this time I will not gain a new scar. Maybe this time she will come back to me the way she was, caring, loving, strong willed and smart. Maybe, just maybe, grave 123 will be the last grave I dig for Angeline. Maybe, just maybe, the knife on the nightstand, stained with Angeline’s blood, will remain unused.
I don’t think I have it in me to kill her again.
For now though, as her cold body warms against mine, and the smell of clay fills my nostrils, she is my Angeline for the night. Only morning will tell. Only the bright light will tell if I dig another grave in the ochre earth, where the bog meets the shore.